Ray of hope from the Supreme Courttext_fields
The Supreme Court on Friday granted bail to Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan, who was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police on October 15, 2020, and imprisoned while on his journey to report the Hathras gang rape case. He was granted bail after the division bench headed by Chief Justice U.U. Lalit found that the reasons given by the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh for arresting Siddique and keeping him in prison are flimsy and untenable. The fact that his release, which was consistently demanded by democrats and human rights activists from inside and outside the country, has become a reality, brings joy not only to Kappan's family and colleagues but to all those fighting for justice. And the court order also reveals the extent of the defiance of democracy in the country and the extent to which governments and official machinery will go in their pursuit of spite.
On September 14, 2020, the entire world was shocked when a Dalit girl was gang-raped and killed by caste fanatics in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras, and then the police cremated the girl's body in the dead of night and destroyed the evidence without even giving the body to her own family for burial. The incident that shocked the world and humiliated India in front of the entire world had given rise to quite a stir nd controversies at that time. Kappan and three Popular Front of India workers were arrested at Mathura Toll Plaza on October 5, 2020, when they were on their way to Hathras to report the developments in the case firsthand. The UP police charged them under UAPA and put them in jail. The charge brought by the police was that they had set out to destroy peace and harmony in Hathras. Right at that time, allegations had surfaced that the UP government, which had lost its face in the brutal act in Hathras fabricated the case against Kappan and others to divert the public's attention. Soon thereafter, in addition to the charges stated as the reason for the arrest, new charges were being framed on Siddique one after the other. Most of these were aimed at blocking the prospects of bail.
Charges were slapped under Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (for promoting enmity between groups), and 295A (outraging religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 65, 72, and 76 of the Information Technology Act. Possessing posters and pamphlets opposing discrimination against blacks in America, conspiring to incite riots by distributing them in Hathras, working with Popular Front, mishandling their funds were some of the unfounded and unsubstantiated charges levelled against Siddique by the UP government, BJP, and widely circulated in the media. No one answered any of the relevant questions such as whether the leaflets found in Siddique's possession were banned, the organization he was associated with was banned, or in the terrorist list. It is more unfortunate that even Allahabad High Court saw these unwarranted reasons as grounds for denying bail.
However, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed all this sophistry of the BJP government and issued the bail verdict. The Supreme Court asked how it can become a crime to raise voice for justice for victims and protest against injustice. The lawyer of the UP government argued that the notices and pamphlets held by the Kappan were a toolkit for violence and that the accused tried to leave the scene and hide their identity after igniting the violence in the case. However, reminding that everyone has freedom of expression, the court questioned how the call made to raise a voice to get justice for the victim can become a crime. The court recalled that in 2012, protests were held at India Gate in the national capital to change the law on the issue of Nirbhaya, and thus the law was eventually changed. The Supreme Court also observed that protests may become necessary to highlight any shortcomings and cannot be seen as a provocation.
Even when Kappan has been granted bail through the intervention of the Supreme Court, many people who were arrested and incarcerated without reason are still in jail in UP and other parts of the country. As many as 853 under-trial prisoners have been in prison for more than 10 years only because the appeals were kept pending by the government. Courts keep repeating that bail is the law. Yet the Allahabad High Court yielded to the vested interests of the UP government to not grant bail in many cases. The Supreme Court also criticized the High Court's action that day. Now in Kappan's case, where the state government and the High Court balked, the Supreme Court charted the path the way of justice. While 76 percent (3,71,848) of the 4,88,511 prisoners in Indian jails are undertrials, it can be hoped that Siddique's verdict will pave the way for the release of those unlucky ones as well.